Will Amazon Be the New Wal-Mart?

As analysts scratch their heads try to explain why Amazon’s stock defies gravity, they’re coming up with theories that are of interest even to non-investors. A Cowen & Co. analyst argues that Amazon “can eventually achieve a Wal-Mart-like share of the U.S. retail market.”

The New Digital Retail Revolution

Nearly three decades ago, Wal-Mart Stores revolutionized the science of retailing by deploying information technology on a massive scale to track inventory, measure sales by the minute and allocate shelf space among competing vendors. Today, a new information revolution is stirring in the retail world, but this time it’s not confined to a single merchant. Social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as new mobile apps like Milo and Krillion, which link consumers with real-time retail inventory information using geolocation technology, are changing both how consumers shop and how retailers merchandise products in ways that could eventually have as far-reaching an impact on marketers and manufacturers as Wal-Mart’s information revolution had.

Vid-Biz: Upfronts, TiVo, Hulu

Broadcast Networks Cut Upfront Ad Prices; estimates peg the decline at 15 to 20 percent off last year, dipping to $7.5 billion, a dollar figure not seen since 2001. (The LA Times)
TiVo Gets Rovi’s Data; DVR service will get access to Rovi’s metadata, which includes info on more than 1 million TV series episodes, 400,000 movie titles and 13 million music tracks. (Multichannel News)
More Online Video Ads vs. Higher Prices, That is the Question; CBS trying to figure out how many ads viewers will tolerate, Hulu just wants to charge more for fewer ads. (BusinessWeek)
Pure Pwnage Going to Canadian TV; web series gets an eight episode order from the Showcase channel. (Tubefilter)
More than Half of Americans Have an HDTV; 53 percent of U.S. households have HDTVs (it was 35 percent in 2008) according to CTAM; 69 percent of those have HDTV service. (Multichannel News)
Sims Creator Looking Beyond Games; Will Wright considers himself an “entertainment designer” and is working on new ideas that go into TV and movies. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Wal-Mart, BP Solar to Build More Solar Rooftops

The biggest retail chain in the world may not be the working man’s best friend, but Wal-Mart Stores (s WMT) is trying to make friends with the planet, picking Earth Day to say that it’s expanding its rooftop solar program along with partner BP Solar. The move could nearly double the number of solar photovoltaic installations at Wal-Mart stores in the U.S., with 10-20 new systems that turn out a total of up to 10 megawatts to go up in addition to the 22 that were originally planned.
First launched back in 2007, the program called for solar panels to be put on the roofs of a distribution center and a combination of 22 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs, all in Hawaii and California, with the systems coming from BP Solar, SunEdison, and SunPower‘s (s SPWRA) PowerLight subsidiary. Solar panels have already been installed at 18 buildings under that plan, with BP Solar, part of oil giant BP (s BP), handling seven of those installations.
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Will The Fortune 500 Save the Solar Industry?

The economy may be giving renewable energy companies plenty to fear in the year to come, but not all the forecasts are gloomy. At a time when analysts are predicting shrinking venture capital investment and companies are shelving plans for new factories, some industry insiders are predicting at least one financing trend that could increase renewable energy projects: tax equity financing.

It might sound boring, but according to Michael Butler, CEO of investment bank Cascadia Capital, tax equity financing for renewable energy projects – that is, investing in renewable energy in exchange for the tax credits — is being considered by large corporations including Microsoft (s MSFT), Google (s GOOG) and others. If Microsoft entered this market in 2009, “that would be a big deal,” Butler says. Financing options are hard to come by, and a surge in corporate tax equity financing could significantly boost the U.S. market.
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SunPower Goes Small-Scale with Latest Deals

Silicon Valley-based SunPower (s SPWRA) can still go big with solar, but today the company announced two installations that are under a megawatt each. In Western Australia, SunPower signed a deal to build a 505-kilowatt solar power plant for Horizon Power that SunPower said will be the largest solar power tracking system in the country. Closer to home, SunPower also announced the completion of a 554-kW system at the Wal-Mart (s WMT) store in Hanford, Calif.

The small-scale business seems to be doing well for SunPower, with its worldwide residential and small-commercial rooftop dealer network growing by more than 25 percent in the third quarter over the previous quarter. The company reported $377.5 million in revenue for the third quarter, with its Components segment, which includes those small installations, accounting for 49 percent of that revenue.

The Horizon Power installation will be built on two sites in the east Pilbara region of Western Australia, with construction expected to be complete by September 2009. The government-owned Horizon Power provides power to remote and regional communities and operations in the state.

SunPower entered the Australian solar market earlier this year when it acquired Solar Sales, an Australian distributor with a network of 30 dealers throughout the country.
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Why the Case Against Cuban Smells Fishy

Mark Cuban by Brian SolisUpdated: It’s a classic PR play: When you start to look like the bad guy, call out a bigger bad guy. And it seems to be the strategy that the Securities and Exchange Commission — besieged by accusations of lax enforcement before and during the credit crisis — is using in going after Mark Cuban for insider trading. It’s too early to say definitively whether Cuban is guilty of insider trading in Mamma.com (now called Copernic), a search also-ran whose management has, in Cuban’s own judgment, “a checkered past.” On his blog, the normally voluble Cuban simply accused the SEC of acting on “win-at-any-cost ambitions” and a process that “was result-oriented, fact be damned.” Still, it’s not looking good for him at all.
The SEC’s complaint against Cuban outlines some pretty compelling evidence: Cuban bought 6.3 percent of Mamma.com in March 2004. Three months later, the company CEO told him it was issuing a controversial, and heavily dilutive, private placement. “Well, now I’m screwed,” Cuban told Mamma’s CEO. “I can’t sell.” But he did, before the offering’s official announcement, sparing himself $750,000 in losses.
Whatever the outcome of the case — Silicon Alley Insider discusses some possible wriggle room — the timing of this news is fishy. Cuban’s attorney said the investigation has been pending for nearly two years, yet it’s only being announced now, less than a month after SEC chair Christopher Cox was raked over the coals at a House committee hearing.
Cox has hardly been a champion of investors. Back in April, some Senators asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the SEC’s enforcement division. Years of budget cuts had left a lean crew, prompting many talented staffers to leave. Disgorgements — repayments of ill-gotten profits — fell 50 percent last year. With a credit crisis looming, Cox’s 2009 budget called for a 1 percent increase in funds — not enough to account for cost of living increases, so another 32 jobs were cut from the enforcement division.
There’s no quicker way to show your watchdog has teeth than to bite a big name. The Cuban story is dominating business news today, just as the Martha Stewart insider trading case did in the wake of the last round of financial scandals — Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, etc.
Martha Stewart did regulators a big favor: She kept the story alive by making statements that prosecutors deemed false. The SEC had been facing charges of lax enforcement back then, too. Stewart’s stock sales saved her only $46,000, but her trial and jail time not only eclipsed other financial fraud cases, it left many people thinking the SEC had learned its lesson and was getting tough.
To be clear, I’m not defending insider selling. Cuban may or may not be guilty, and as I said it’s not looking good. My point is that it’s very suspicious that the SEC tends to wheel out a big, headline-grabbing case whenever it’s chairman is on the ropes.
Whatever happens to Cuban, this case will do absolutely nothing to prevent the SEC from falling asleep at the wheel again.
Update: Cuban is fighting back, as VentureBeat sums up. Cuban’s blog has a memo attempting to refute evidence in the SEC ‘s complaint; and the NY Times has a purported email from an SEC staffer accusing Cuban of being unpatriotic because of his involvement in a documentary critical of President Bush. Very odd, but it suggests Cuban may run a media-savvy counter-campaign.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Solis via Flickr.